Why no news really is good news

The fact that you’re reading this at all suggests that you’re interested in improving yourself and your life. One of the most obvious ways to do that is to wave goodbye to habits or behaviours that are doing you no favours.

Tobacco is the no-brainer, followed by hard drugs and excessive amounts of alcohol. Then there’s sugar, salt, fried and processed food. Then there are habits like hanging out with negative people, obsessively watching porn or, come to think of it, obsessively doing more or less anything.

But there’s one other thing you might consider giving up. It might not have even occurred to you that it has a negative effect on you.

It’s the news. Here are just a few reasons why it’s bad for you:

It’s very rarely relevant. The purveyors of news want you to believe that regularly consuming it will make you smarter and more aware. But let’s say you consumed a hefty intake of around 5,000 news items in the past year. Ask yourself how many of those items prompted you to make any decision or take any action that truly, fundamentally affected your life?  The answer will almost surely be between none and three. Is that a good return on the time and effort you invested in keeping up to date with all that news?

Moreover, it doesn’t really explain anything. It’s served in little gobbets of easily digested information. But the real stories are the trends that lie beneath the surface, the ones that move more slowly but with greater effect. The more of those little gobbets and soundbites we swallow, the less chance we have of seeing the real picture.

It doesn’t really change anything either. As Warren Buffett said: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.”

But there’s a more serious problem with being a news freak.

It’s literally toxic. The vast majority of news stories focus on things and events that are worrying, like wars, political threats, natural and manmade disasters. Watching this procession of bad news stimulates our limbic system (a structure within the brain that regulates our emotions and our ‘fight or flight’ mechanisms) causing it to produce excessive and unnecessary amounts of the cortisol hormone.

The cortisol disrupts your immune system and can impose chronic stresses on your body, leaving you more prone to panic attacks and illness.

The news is also bad for your memory and cognitive thinking. It has been proven that taking large doses of news exercises the neural circuits that enable you to ‘skim’ information, at the expense of those circuits that enable you to concentrate, read at length and think deeply.

Perhaps worst of all, it’s bad for your state of mind. Constantly witnessing the awful things that are happening in the world – but which we can do nothing about – can make us pessimistic, cynical and fatalistic. Scientists call this syndrome “learned helplessness”.

There is a conspiracy theory that media corporations are in collusion with the ‘powers that be’ (whoever they are) to keep the populace hooked on bad news, because people are easier to manipulate when they’re anxious and fearful. That may be far fetched but surely there’s a correlation between the fact that we’re constantly bombarded with news and the fact that depression is constantly on the rise.

The 1960s psychedelic revolution had a slogan: tune in, turn on, drop out. Maybe the say-no-to-news revolution should have a slogan too: tune out, switch off, cheer up.

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